Former Flash Gordon actor Sam Jones coming to MEFCC

Sam Jones - who played Flash Gordon in the beloved 1980 film - is one of the headline guests at this year's Comic Con.

From left, Brian Blessed, Topol, Melody Anderson and Sam Jones in the 1980 film version of Flash Gordon. The cult classic began its life as a comic strip in the 1930s, then became a Saturday morning film serial and various TV series before becoming the beloved movie. Starling Films
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Sam Jones rarely sports the distinctive white-blond hair of his best-known big-screen role, yet wherever he travels, certain phrases still follow.

“I hear ‘Gordon’s alive!’ and ‘This Ming is a psycho’,” chuckles the actor, who is in California preparing to fly to Dubai to appear as one of the headline guests at the Middle East Film and Comic Convention.

“Although, in Los Angeles, even if they recognise me, they keep walking. Or instead of saying ‘Hello, Flash’, they’ll just sing the theme song.”

Well, that song, by the British rock legends Queen, is a great tune.

Now approaching its 35th anniversary, Flash Gordon has enjoyed an unexpected revival in the past few years, with another popularity surge likely this summer. Jones has recently been filming Ted 2, a sequel to the 2012 talking-teddy bear movie that played hilarious homage to the cheesy sci-fi classic and its star.

“That opened up a whole new age group – 20-year-olds, teenagers – which in turn meant that I started getting more invitations to do personal appearances,” says the actor, who will meet the fans, young and old, at MEFCC from Thursday. “I’m getting so many invitations, I’m having to turn them down – which I guess is good.”

Yet the movie's initial reviews were decidedly mixed. It was made by the acclaimed British director Mike Hodges, whose other work includes the 1971 Michael Caine classic Get Carter and 1998's Croupier, which starred Clive Owen.

It reintroduced the vintage comic-book hero – created by the artist Alex Raymond in 1934 and best known to most people at the time from the black-and-white Saturday-morning movie serials from the late 1930s that starred Buster Crabbe as the hero – in a fabulously colourful, frequently silly fashion.

Jones admits that the film was “not a big hit in America”, so what did he make of it, at first?

“It’s a very good question,” he says. “When it premiered I said the same words that you just did: ‘Am I supposed to laugh at this scene? Are they making fun of it? Are they serious?’

“But it really became a big hit in almost every other country where it premiered and then it became very big in America, Top 10 in video sales. It just evolved into this cult classic. I think Queen had a lot to do with it.”

Queen’s soundtrack – particularly the dramatic theme song – remains a soaring triumph and the film’s overall style has aged surprisingly well.

“To me, it’s a masterpiece,” says Jones, citing production designer Danilo Donati’s work in particular. “There were a couple of hundred Italians he brought in for the costumes and the design. Visually, it’s quite unique.”

That said, the film's comic-strip style may not have been the ideal calling card for future acting roles, and though Jones kept working through the years, he never hit similar heights. Did he ever feel like taking Flash off his CV?

"I probably thought about doing that at the beginning," he admits. "It's something I've been very proud of, my work in Flash Gordon. But people, my representation, said: 'You need to get away from that.'"

All these years later, however, the Flash Gordon link is providing new opportunities and Jones is planning his own documentary about the film and his experience of starring in it.

Filming has already begun on Life After Flash, which will bring the actor's story up to date. Interviews are planned with famous fans, such as Ted director and Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane and the renowned ­comic-book artist Alex Ross.

Another influential fan may even greenlight a long-awaited follow-up. The original movie features a cliffhanger ending, as the vanquished villain Ming reclaims his power ring – but a sequel never materialised. Now a studio bigwig and boyhood Flash fan has got involved.

"I really believe this is going to come to fruition, another Flash Gordon, because he hasn't just acquired the screenplay rights, he has a personal interest in it," says Jones. "So I met with them and said: 'Here I am, whatever you need me for.'"

Before then, MEFCC needs him, for countless autographs and photographs. Some actors best remembered for a role in their younger days may find these conventions demeaning, harking back to former glories that were never recaptured, but Jones seems genuinely pleased and upbeat about his close encounters with sci-fi obsessives.

“It’s an opportunity to travel to a different country, a different city I’ve never been to, and say thanks to the fans who’ve supported me,” he says. “I love doing the Q&As on panels – it’s a lot of fun.”

It helps when the character you played is still going strong, of course – and between the documentary, the Ted movies and possibly of some sort of role in a new Flash film, Gordon is very much alive.

“I need to keep my wits about me,” the star says with a smile. “I might get that call to fly back up to the planet Mongo again. You never know.”